Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You: A Novel without Pay, Perks, or Privilegesby T. M. Shine
Predictable, almost invisible, and lacking ambition, he’s held the same tedious job for eighteen years, typing up the calendar listings for a South Florida weekly. As the economy and the newspaper industry crashed around him, Jeffrey kept his head comfortably in the sand until he was terminated in the middle of
Jeffrey Reiner is a middle manager’s dream.
Predictable, almost invisible, and lacking ambition, he’s held the same tedious job for eighteen years, typing up the calendar listings for a South Florida weekly. As the economy and the newspaper industry crashed around him, Jeffrey kept his head comfortably in the sand until he was terminated in the middle of his lunch hour. Suddenly Jeffrey is staring at a deadline of twenty-one weeks before his severance pay and unemployment benefits dry up and he has to figure out what to do next.
Plunged into the bizarre world of unemployment, Jeffrey’s attempts at networking lead him to his slacker neighbors, an unorthodox state facilitator, and a 1-800 mental health counselor. What’s even worse is now that he has no job to fill the daytime hours, he can’t ignore the fact that his family life is unraveling: his wife communicates almost solely through detailed daily honey-do lists; his mother seems determined to get herself kicked out of her assisted-living facility; his teenage daughter has no use for him and seems wiser to the ways of the world than he’ll ever be; and his son has taken up a disturbing form of pest control to help make ends meet. Even his dog finds a way to let him down.
With his job search going nowhere amid the wreckage of the American economy, Jeffrey has no choice but to push beyond his comfort zone. He takes on a string of ridiculous odd jobs for a guy known as “enterprising dude” that include dressing up as the Statue of Liberty and breeding fish in a tub of mud. But as Jeffrey stumbles from one comic catastrophe to another, he realizes that in opening up to the world, he no longer wants to go back to his safe, sheltered corner. Full of whimsy, wry humor, and surprising insight,
Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You is a weird, wonderful journey of self-discovery that proves there’s life after the pink slip after all.
It's only the end of the world for a semi-journalist who loses his lifetime gig.
Florida journalist Shine turns on his profession with this acidly funny but disjointed first novel about a newspaper refugee who takes unemployment harder than most. His Everyman hero is 46-year-old Jeffrey Reiner, the listings editor at a South Florida weekly with an atmosphere so poisonous that the employees flee to happy hour at the first whiff of a layoff. This introduction has a similar vibe to Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End, as Reiner mourns the loss of the humdrum job he's held for 18 years. His wife, Anna, is a terrifying perfectionist who soon loses patience with Jeffrey's self-delusions. "All the career counseling and self-help books and job fairs and networking crap—it's all monotonous and repetitive," he whines. "There's too much emphasis on working. They act like nobody can exist without having a great job. There are other things I'm doing. Important things." Meanwhile, his kids Andrew and Kristin are incensed over the loss of cable and laptop privileges. To deal with his increasing stress, Jeffrey contemplates writing a blog about his plight, spends time with his loser buddies and uses his unemployment counselor as a makeshift shrink. Before long, he's taking questionable assignments from Omar, a fly-by-night entrepreneur. There are highlights to this dysfunctional odyssey—a major freak-out involving a tire dealer and a disastrous trip to swim with dolphins are two of the book's best moments. However, for all the zippy dialogue and culturally savvy humor, the story never seems to go anywhere—just like its increasingly tiresome protagonist's career. The book might appeal to the masses of unemployed workers out there, but its lessons are few and far between.
A sprawling story about the value of work that ultimately misses the point of redemption.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 9.78(w) x 11.28(h) x 1.07(d)
Read an Excerpt
From where I’m currently sitting, in a tightly strapped sun-cracked lounge chair, I have both a view of Federal Highway and the “Clean Rooms and Affordable Rates” sign, but not much else.
In my lap I’m cradling a small bag of sundries I bought at the CVS pharmacy beside the motel, a dirty polo shirt with a Cheesecake Factory “Hi, I’m Alexandra” name badge haphazardly attached, a postcard my buddy Artie sent me from the equator, an “extremely cool” dolphin snow globe and a crumpled slip of paper that begins with the statement: “As you have been informed by your manager, your employment with the company will be ending effective today.”
That was a lot of todays ago - 112 to be exact - so I don’t mean to imply that I was terminated yesterday afternoon, got drunk and ended up at this dump. I wish. No, this has been a slow process. My wife Anna was supportive and then she wasn’t. There are a couple of things I understand her being upset about. One involved the police and those cheap, garbage tie handcuffs. I’m telling you right now, if you ever get arrested insist on real handcuffs. The police act like the shiny silver ones are only for special occasions or something now but they’re much more comfortable – less pinching – and if you ask nicely they’ll use them. Anyway, there were a few other incidents including the “Batteries and Tires for Life” policy at our Toyota dealer, an urban corn field and a community college mishap but it’s mostly just domestic/suburban nonsense and my 17-year-old daughter, Kristin, is on her way to pick me up so I don’t have time to get into all that. Just know, none if it was my fault.
Specifically, what led me here was more of the same but I’ll run through it real quick. We were visiting my brother-in-law (My brother-in-law is one of those people that everybody likes but you don’t know why) at their new house on the Intracoastal Waterway. It has four floors. I know, I know, so I’m kidding him about it, right? I checked if it was about a view, because I’ve got no problem how high someone goes for a view, but the water was completely visible from the third floor. "Three is somewhat unique. But what the heck do you need four floors for?" I asked. Granted, I asked more than once, but you know how you get something in your head that’s silly and you just can’t stop going on about it?
Oh, and you definitely need to know that during the whole four floors ordeal this “revolutionary” motion-sensor trash can near their wet bar was flapping like a clam every time I squirmed to get comfortable in the most uncomfortable six-legged chair (why would a chair need six legs?) I’ve ever encountered.
Apparently, my comments made my brother and sister-in-law a bit uneasy, and Anna half-heartedly defended me by saying, "Jeffrey only has opinions about small things."
"And tall things," I added, in a way that made our hosts want to freshen our drinks, which we hadn't even touched.
It was an awkward moment with that special kind of silence that could make even a monk cringe but those are sort of in style now, aren’t they? What with those wince inducing comedy shows and whatnot, awkward is the new suave as far as I can tell. So I didn’t think much of them nervously skittering off to search for honey roasted peanuts in the kitchen two flights down.
Meet the Author
T.M. SHINE is an award-winning journalist and author based in South Florida who has written on topics ranging from spending a week in fourth grade at the age of thirty-two to hunting down an elusive Lizard Man in the backwoods of South Carolina. A regular contributor to The Washington Post Magazine, his work has also appeared in numerous publications and been featured on National Public Radio’s This American Life.
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